Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements (review - part three)

This article concludes a three-part review of Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffery (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2005; hereinafter cited as Mormonsim and Evolution). The book was released in January of 2006.

The book's publisher claims it compiles "all known" authoritative LDS statements about evolution and the origin of man. [1] The book makes the same claim as it carefully portrays an LDS "position of neutrality" [2] and a lack "of any offIcial Church doctrine on the subject." [3]

Unfortunately, these claims are not true. Although the book does provide some statements that meet the specified criteria for authoritative status, it includes other statements that don't and leaves out several that do, thus creating a distorted picture of the Church's position on evolution.

The first section of the book, the BYU Evolution Packet, was reviewed in part one of this series (found here). The first Appendix item (Document A) was reviewed in part two (found here). This article will review the remainder of the book.

Criteria for Authoritative Status

The book's Preface lists the criteria that were used in deciding which statements to include. Documents relevant to the subject were selected if they were:

" a) produced under the First Presidency's sponsorship,

" b) statements published by the President of the Church over his signature alone, or

" c) documents approved for publication directly by the First Presidency as a body." [4]

These criteria are summarized in the book's Introduction as "materials having some level of authoritative status, i.e., First Presidency, President of the Church, or published officially by the Church." [5]

The book's Afterword claims every statement was included that meets the stated criteria and reviews those criteria again as follows:

"The documents included in this publication were selected according to their authoritative status for expressing the official position of the LDS Church on biological evolution. Every document of which we are aware that meets the criteria for authoritative status is included, irrespective of the position expressed on the subject of evolution. Three categories of authoritative status were identified for inclusion here:

" 1. Formal statements by the First Presidency as a body....

" 2. Documents authorized for distribution by the First Presidency....

" 3. Documents after 1909 from a President of the Church addressing the subject directly in his capacity as President." [6]

Missing Statements

Several relevant statements are conspicuously absent from the Mormonism and Evolution compilation (follow the links for more information). They include:

1. Harold B. Lee on pre-Adamites,

2. David O. McKay and pre-Adamites,

3. Spencer W. Kimball and the watchmaker analogy,

4. Joseph F. Smith on Theory and Divine Revelation,

5. The 1972-73 Melchizedek Priesthood Course of Study,

6. The 1980-81 Melchizedek Priesthood Lesson 6,

7. The 2000-2001 Priesthood and Relief Society manual,

8. The 2002 Priesthood and Relief Society manual, and

9. First Presidency, "The Origin of Man," 2002 reprint.

All of the above items meet at least one of the stated criteria; that is, each was either authored by or approved for publication by the Church President or the First Presidency. And all of them (including President Lee's unpublished letter and President McKay's handwritten note) have as much authoritative standing as do the following Mormonism and Evolution Appendix documents for which no previous publication information is given:

1. The 1931 First Presidency Memo (p. 54),

2. The Talmage journal excerpt (p. 97),

3. The Grant journal excerpt (p. 99),

4. Letters from the Church Public Relations department not identified by date or addressee (p. 113).

Appendix Documents

Document A. (p. 43) — 1910 excerpt Priesthood Quorums' Table — This item was thoroughly reviewed in part two of this series. Briefly, the item was not written by a Church President or First Presidency. It is not authoritative and appears to have been selected on the basis of content alone.

Document B. (p. 47) — 1911 editorial from the April Juvenile Instructor — As it stands, this item gives a false impression because it is incomplete. President Joseph F. Smith published a companion editorial in the April 1911 Improvement Era. These two 1911 editorials should be considered together (not one without the other).

Document C. (p. 54) — 1931 First Presidency memo — This memo closed the Church's official evaluation of a priesthood manual submitted in 1928 by Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy. Discussions centered on the book's double creation theory.

The discussions were not centered on theories of evolution or the origin of man as Mormonism and Evolution twice claims they were — (on p. 3) that the 1931 First Presidency addressed "evolution and the origin of man," and (on p. 38) that "in 1931 ... there was intense discussion on the issue of organic evolution." These two errors are reviewed in part one of this series (found here).

Mormonism and Evolution tells of a letter that is circulating, apparently from a member of (or the office of) the current First Presidency, that contains a "shortened version of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article" (p. 112).

Mormonism and Evolution doesn't provide the text of this letter (although you can read it here). The letter essentially corrects the Encyclopedia of Mormonism Evolution article by borrowing its text (without citing the Encyclopedia) and deleting the flawed language.

I believe the intent of this letter, as with the 1931 memo, is the opposite of what evolutionists ascribe to it. Evolutionists see "You may interpret scripture using your science," where the First Presidency is actually saying "Don't stretch the gospel to fit your scientific views."

Document D. (p. 71) — 1931 The Earth and Man — This item was thoroughly reviewed in a separate article found here. According to the 1935 First Presidency, this sermon "cannot be regarded as an official expression of the Church."

Document E. (p. 97) — 1931 journal excerpt Talmage — This was obviously not written by a Church President or First Presidency. No previous publication information is given and it is clear that no Church President or First Presidency authorized its publication. This item might better have been included in the "Context" discussion for Document D.

Document F. (p. 99) — 1931 journal excerpt Grant — No previous publication citation is given and it is clear that President Grant never authorized its publication. This item might better have been included in the "Context" discussion for Document D.

Document G. (p. 101) — 1952 excerpt McKay — In this paragraph, President McKay likened Darwin's theory of evolution to the concept of man's eventual resurrection from the dead. It is a rhetorical comparison that President McKay used more than once during his ministry. In reality, of course, Darwin's theory is unrelated to the resurrection. Unfortunately, such remarks are sometimes cited as evidence that President McKay believed in biological evolution. Yet, President McKay never stated publicly that he believed in biological evolution.

Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, in David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 2005), state clearly that President McKay "never made a public statement affirming his acceptance of biological evolution.... The closest he came ... was [using] evolution as an argument in favor of resurrection [and going] so far as to borrow from Charles Darwin to make his point." (p. 46).

Document H. (p. 105) — 1956 excerpt McKay — This is a helpful paragraph, but see the above comment regarding Document G.

Document I. (p. 107) — 1976 excerpt Kimball — This is a helpful quotation, but it doesn't fully represent President Kimball's thinking on the subject.

In 1977, President Kimball used the watchmaker analogy (reviewed here) to teach that the earth and man were created by "the Gods." His remarks about this can be read here. According to President Kimball, the Gods are watchmakers, not evolution of the watch guidance counselors who only occasionally intervene in the process.

Document J. (p. 109) — 1997 excerpt Hinckley — Those who wish to correctly understand President Hinckley's feelings on this subject will also consider the following statement which was published "with his permission and approval" [7] two years after he became Church President:

"I believe in evolution, not organic evolution, as it is called, but in the evolution of the mind, the heart, and the soul of man. I believe in improvement. I believe in growth." [8]

A similar comment, found in the May 2004 New Era, gives further helpful insight into President Hinckley's feelings about evolution.

Document K. (p. 111) — 2002 excerpt Hinckley — This 56 word paragraph from Larry Witham's book quotes 26 of President Hinckley's words and gives Witham's view of President Hinckley's beliefs. Regarding what others say about his beliefs, President Hinckley has warned:

"I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that’s to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported.... I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church." [9]

The reader should also keep in mind that, in 2002, the First Presidency approved distribution of no death before the fall teachings to all adult members in that year's Priesthood and Relief Society study guide and that evolution is precluded by that doctrine. Refer also to the above comments about Document J.

Document L. (p. 113) — 2003-2004 responses — As mentioned above, these are letters from the Church Public Relations department not identified by date or addressee. Mormonism and Evolution correctly notes that the quoted sentences are from the 1909 First Presidency statement. What remains unsaid is that the 1909 statement is also the Church's most recently published statement on evolution and should be considered in its entirety.

The Church Position on Evolution

The Church's position on evolution was announced in the November 1909 Improvement Era and has been reprinted twice during the past five years. The Church's 2000-2001 and 2002 reprints of the 1909 statement update its relevance and give it focus directly to the 21st century.

This formal 1909 statement, quoted in Mormonism and Evolution as Document 1 (pp. 14-25), contains the Church's current and official doctrinal position on evolution. [10] And because this statement is easily and usually interpreted as anti-evolutionary (or, as Duane Jeffery himself has called it, "anti-science" [11] and "quite anti-evolutionary" [12] ), it is clear that the Church position on evolution is not neutral.


Contrary to its title, Mormonism and Evolution fails to comprehensively provide "the" authoritative LDS statements on evolution. It does provide some of them, but other statements are included that don't meet the book's stated criteria for authoritative status.

The result is that individuals who want the Church to be neutral on evolution will be enthusiastic about this book. Those, however, who just want to know where the Church stands on evolution should be wary of this book.


[1] Greg Kofford Books web site, 04/28/2006.

[2] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 96.

[3] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 45.

[4] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 8.

[5] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 3.

[6] Mormonism and Evolution, pp. 115-116; italics added.

[7] Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, SLC: Deseret Book, 1997, p. vii.

[8] Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 298.

[9] Ensign, Nov. 1997, p. 4.

[10] See Ensign, Feb. 2002, p. 26.

[11] Mormonism and Evolution, p. 30.

[12] Deseret Morning News, March 1, 2006, p. B3.


Blogger Jared* said...


I hope that the completion of this review doesn't mean a completion of your life's mission!

I think your efforts are worthy of compliment. I would quibble with a few of your interpretations, but I think you've done a good job of getting much of the [church] data out on the table.

6/27/2006 08:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, I just love your website. With Jared I hope you will continue to post on this blog. It is one of the best on the Internet from my perspective.

I notice that you quote President Packer about preferring heaven as a source of evidence and truth. I agree with him. All information sources are less than perfectly reliable, but by far the most reliable information sources available are the teachings of both ancient and modern prophets as confirmed by the Holy Ghost.

Each person has to decide for himself who is going to believe. Is he going to believe the testimony of the world, including the testimony of modern science. Or is he going to believe the testimony of the prophets of God and his own personal revelation? Those who doubt the prophets because of apparently contradictory testimony, simply haven't got a testimony as I define one. They do not understand that God's truth is the only truth there is. And mankind is constantly getting it wrong when it struggles without revelation to understand the evidence of its own unaided senses.

That which we know by the power of the Holy Ghost is more "real" than that which we think we know by the evidence of our own senses. Our own senses can be wrong. We can be deceived. It happens all the time.

7/22/2006 04:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared and John,

Yes, I plan to continue to post on this blog. It's just that I've been very busy.

Today I finished a big project. We bought a new (to us) home June 22nd and closed on it July 10th. We started emptying the house we've lived in for fifteen years into a storage unit as soon as the seller accepted earnest money because we needed to be out by July 15th (last Saturday). Today, our sons helped us empty the storage unit into our new (to us) basement. It feels good to have everything under one roof again.


I'm flattered that you would think my review of the Evenson and Jeffery book worthy of compliment, even rising to the level of a "life's mission." Wow! Thank you!


What you say is, in my opinion, completely true: "Mankind is constantly getting it wrong when it struggles without revelation to understand the evidence of its own unaided senses. That which we know by the power of the Holy Ghost is more 'real' than that which we think we know by the evidence of our own senses." I agree with you completely on this.

I also appreciate your kind comments about my blog.

7/22/2006 11:08:00 PM  

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